The Jersey shore when I was a boy, was a place where you could skinny into your trunks behind a dune and make a run for the ocean without seeing anyone else nearby – at least that was true outside of the major developed shore communities. Depending on where you beached you didn’t need your trunks at all. Now the shore is an overdeveloped honky-tonk ripe with seagulls gobbling French-fries off the boardwalk. Like most things gone wrong in this world, those ills can be directly traced to human gluttony, indifference and greed – the three major byproducts of our species.
After Columbus opened the floodgates to the New World, Western Europeans stampeded across the continent with little or no regard for the indigenous peoples, plants and wildlife who’d already staked a gentle claim to the unspoiled land. Lord Baltimore gleefully shipped-over a dozen birds called the Columba Livia now known as the Feral Roc Pigeon. These birds were destined for his Maryland estate in order to stock the shooting fields with his favorite game-hen. He thought America was such a beautiful place that it needed one example of every species of bird. He meant well, but he failed to shoot them all. Sadly, Lord Baltimore was (at the time) the pigeon’s only natural predator. Here’s mud in your eye Lord Baltimore… Human encroachment on the woodland habitats have driven pigeon-eating Peregrine-falcons and Redtail-hawks to become highrise cliff-dweller.
Pigeons and white-people aren’t the only species to take-up unnatural residence in the Americas – Farting-Holsteins, Chincoteague ponies, horses, pigs, gray roof rats and all manner of 2 to 4 legged interlopers came sailing across the ocean at the beck and call of the white man – some for the greater good and some not. Once here our pale-faced ancestors sought to duplicate the over-crowded, discontented world they’d known and left behind. Simply put, it’s the history of human failings. Of course those who sailed west also brought with them their cherished pet cats to curb the rodent population and keep the children amused.
Cats are mysterious, beautiful, enigmatic creatures who control our love for them with endearing indifference. Perhaps it’s that indifference which makes us love them all the more. It never occurs to anyone – in the cat’s own eye we’re merely ’service staff.’ Cats are always in control. Perhaps we people feel a need to have something take control as clearly the human race is NOT equal to the task. That said I’m not sure we want to let our world to be governed by the benevolence of our feline friends. Cats toy with our affections much the same way they toy with their prey. Gentle one minute and brutally harsh the next. Nothing better mimics the cruel and contradictory nature of our world than the common, everyday house-cat. Like Mother Nature herself, part of every cat’s charm is marked with a ruthless beauty. Cats even have their own insufferable musical which is booked in summer-stock revivals long after all ticket-holders will have gone extinct, scorched to death by global warming.
Cat-lovers understandably want their cats purring by their side. Even when vacationing on holiday at the beach. People find petting an animal comforting, be it a dog, a cat or a cuddly Komodo Dragon.
Dogs are licensed and monitored for the most part. Whenever possible adhering to leash laws enforced (hopefully) by responsible communities and pet-owners. Cats on the other hand do pretty much as they please. A cat’s natural instincts rule them – for which they are not to be faulted or taken to task. Cats bask lazily in the sun waking only to chase a leaf in the breeze – knowing it’s the sight of movement that captures their curiosity – triggering primal hunting instincts.
Cats prefer a slow kill. It’s so ingrained in them they have no control over it – and useful as cats are in keeping vermin at bay – remember the old saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” If those sage words are true, then animal advocates are all too frequently the most well-meaning yet gently misguided people in the world.
I’m not aware of any effective method for herding cats. Animal advocates (cat lovers in particular) endeavor to catch stray cats. In the best case scenario, to responsibly re-home the cats to safety. Other radically well-meaning individuals catch feral cats believing they’re doing good-works by spaying and inoculating the animals for disease. It’s a start, but ill-advised to set those same cats back outside to run loose in ‘feral cat colonies.’ Doing so creates a recipe for disaster – especially in coastal areas where the feral cat population is leading to the unwelcome, rapid disappearance of irreplaceable species of coastal birds. Cats will hunt not only for food but for the pleasure of the kill. While little Mister Whisker-Puss has every right to live his life unharmed, so do other species vitally important to the cycle of life.
Best known for irresponsibility, human beings are far more capricious than than any calico or tuxedo could dream of being. Stupid people too frequently loose interest in pets once they’re no longer cute little kittens or puppies – abandoning them or merely losing track of them. People frequently dump dogs and cats in shelters once they become enamored with idea of parenthood and the new ‘human’ baby arrives. Heaven help those children who’s parents have learned nothing from caring for an animal. Pets understandably run away from human cruelty or neglect – in the shore points stray cats spell calamity for marine birds.
On the Jersey Shore, among the most threatened of these defenseless birds is the Piping Plover. Plovers are a gentle, harmless beach-nesting species. Both beach-nesting and nest-defending leaves these delicate little birds vulnerable to feline killer instincts. Included in the list of threatened and endangered Jersey Shore birds are: Piping Plovers, Black Skimmers, Least Terns and the American Oystercatcher to name a few. A cat lover once said to me with flagrantly false authority that cats aren’t quick enough to catch anything but older and wounded birds, saying “It’s bullshit – birds can get away from cats by flying to the safety of trees, besides, it’s nature at work.” Not so, beach nesting birds while capable of flight have no effective defense when their earthbound nests are besieged by cats. Current data indicates there to be as few as ONE mating pair of Piping Plovers left in in some of the developed areas of New Jersey — outside designated refuges.
I spoke with a with a source who disclosed there was a colony of Least Terns where at least 60+ birds were killed by a single cat over a period of a few days in the municipality of Belmar during one nesting season. Word has also surfaced there’s an investigation/survey underway of damage inflicted by feral cats who attacked a nesting area on the Jersey Shore this past June. An estimated 100 pairs of beach-nesting birds were decimated – not only adult mating birds, but hatchlings, nests and eggs. Bear in mind that baby birds are incapable of flight for the first month of their lives. For these beleaguered species, it’s a disaster of incomprehensible magnitude. If those same birds were slathered with crude-oil on the gulf coast, all animal lovers including cat owners would be outraged and signing online petitions. However when the killing is done by cats, its wrongfully shrugged-off as simply part of the natural order. There’s nothing natural about feral cats inhabiting the Jersey Shore – not unless you’re talking about MTV cat-fights in after-hours clubs in Seaside Heights – which come to think of it are pretty unnatural too.
The next time you find yourself attempting to relax at the beach while being eaten alive by bugs, utter a simple prayer in memory of the harmless birds, many of whom supplement their diet with insects who left unchecked feast on beachgoers.
Its bad enough to have the Jersey Shore diminished by Snookie and The Situation – not to mention over-development, pollution, litter, tire-tracks and dune erosion. This has got to stop. I implore everyone who loves and enjoys New Jersey‘s beaches to please keep your cats indoors at all times or controlled on a leash. Better yet, board them during your two weeks of summer vacation. Drink-in the sobering reality that one lone outdoor cat is capable of destroying the future population of endangered marine birds very quickly and within an area of incalculable radius.
Cape May, one the Jersey Shore’s finest communities has an estimated 125 feral cats living outdoors by their wits and instincts. Who knows how many cats run feral in other resort towns…? If you want to do something useful as an animal advocate – catch some of those cats and do more than merely neuter and inoculate them – re-home and domesticate them. If you have to, turn the cat over to a no-kill shelter if there’s other recourse. Better yet, spoil the kitty rotten in your own home, buying it toys and treats to your hearts delight.
Just take responsibility…!!!
Only humane, forethought of action and common sense will prevent further diminishing fragile birds who’s nesting areas are none other than our rapidly dwindling stretches of unspoiled coastline. Commit yourself to become some cool cat’s feline house-servant. But in the name of all that’s good, don’t let the cat out-of-the bag at the Jersey Shore to prey on rare and irreplaceable birds.
Cat owners – if you’re a genuinely animal lovers you will take and meet this challenge. There’s no chance in the world we will ever run in short-supply of cats – feral or otherwise. Beach-nesting birds on the other hand are priceless whether in the hand or in the bush.
|Piping Plovers nesting by seaweed.|
|American Oystercatcher with an oyster in tow.|
|Beach-nesting Black Skimmers|
|A Least Tern surveying dead offspring.|
For more information go on endangered New Jersey birds go to: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/chkbirds.htm